What is a home?
What does philosophy have to contribute to the understanding of 'home'?
Analytic philosophy is in the business of conceptual analysis, finding the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be what it is. Plato started it with his questions about the forms: 'What is Justice?' 'What is Beauty?' etc. Descartes pursued it from his armchair by the fire, asking 'What am I?', and philosophers have been chasing concepts with definitions ever since.
A conceptual analysis attempts to capture a set of intuitions we have about a concept, so that once we come up with a definition, every instance of that concept and nothing else falls under it. So for instance, armchairs cannot be defined as 'comfy seats' because there are things that are comfortable to seat on which are not armchairs, such as sofas. So is an armchair a comfy seat for one person? Perhaps, but a good conceptual analysis would look for armchairs that don't fulfill the conditions of 'comfy' or 'seat', and for things that do that aren't armchairs before settling on that definition.
Can we use appeal to the tools of conceptual analysis to help define the home? Attempting to capture the home in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions is a task that, if not doomed to failure, turns out to be singularly unproductive. Although most of us agree on the basic intuition that we need homes, these homes tend to look different according to what needs they serve, and that varies a great deal according to places and times. A home may or may not be a dwelling, something physical or not, that ties a family together, or a community, it may or may not involve property and land. This leaves room for plural definitions, perhaps definitions that succeed in capturing a certain 'family resemblance' in uses of the word across time and space.
The idea that instances of a concept sometimes shared a 'family resemblance' rather than a set of necessary and sufficient conditions comes from Wittgenstein, who, when he attempted to say what a game was, found that some games had very little in common with others (say bouncing a ball against a wall, and D&D). He concluded that games, though definitely belonging to one concept, were not tied together by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions:
I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: "games" form a family.
Morris Weitz applied the Wittgensteinian idea of family resemblance to the concept of art, after noticing that it was impossible to bring all the things that we count as instances of that concept under a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. A definition of art would have to accommodate that have as little in common as a Greek tragedy and an 18thcentury piece of furniture. (Weitz, Morris (1956). "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics". Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 15: 27–35.) Weitz concluded that art was an open concept, that could expand in order to accommodate new forms of art.
It seems that had analytic philosophers bothered to define the home, they would have come to the same conclusion, for reasons stated above. The home covers too many disparate intuitions for it to be reasonable to expect it to fall under one set of necessary and sufficient conditions. But it does not follow that the home cannot be defined philosophically: it simply needs to be stated that the definitions capture only one version of the home, at one place or one time. And in order to do that, what better strategy than to study what women philosophers of the past have written about the home?
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This is where I blog about my new book project (under contract with OUP): a history of the philosophy of the home and domesticity, from the perspective of women philosophers.